Quality players like Lucas Harrell – who find themselves playing quite well albeit on bad, small-market teams in cities where there isn’t much interest in baseball – are easily overlooked by most fans outside of said cities and/or teams. Especially with pitchers, playing on a team as bad as the Astros have been in recent years can really disguise a player’s superior level of play. Lack of offense, poor decisions being made behind him, and the team’s overall incapability of winning games will certainly dilute a pitcher’s perceived value in a baseball world which tends to unfairly focus a great deal on wins and losses.
A bright spot on a 2012 Astros team that lost 107 games, Harrell was (in terms of WAR) Houston’s top player last year. In his first full season in the big leagues, the 27-year-old right-hander started 32 games, finishing the season with an 11-11 record and 3.76 ERA. Allowing only 13 home runs in over 193 innings pitched, his .60 HR/9 ranked fifth in all of Major League Baseball.
Yankees fans were able to get a closer look at the Astros’ No.2 starter, as Harrell took the hill for Houston Monday night in the first game of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium. For those previously unaware of his talent, Harrell certainly demonstrated his capabilities against a Yankees team that, coming into the game, had been playing excellent baseball.
Although his team provided him with plenty of run support – he had a 3-0 lead before he even took the mound and a 9-0 lead by the fifth inning – Harrell dominated the Yankees on Monday, striking out four and giving up one run over 6.1 innings. He allowed plenty of base runners (11), but the sinkerball pitcher kept the ball down – he only gave up one fly ball all night – and got the Yankees to hit into three double plays. Earning his third consecutive win of the season, the righty lowered his ERA to 3.60.
Coming into Monday night’s game, Harrell was 2-2 with a 4.08 ERA. That high ERA was largely due to a single bad outing against the A’s in early April. In that game, Harrell only lasted 4.1 innings, giving up three homers and eight earned runs. He rebounded nicely from that shellacking, however, as he has now earned three wins and has only given up a total of five earned runs over his following four starts.
The 9-1 victory on Monday marks the Astros’ first defeat of the Yankees since June 11, 2003. Much to their chagrin, most fans of the Yankees should remember that game. That game, played almost 10 years ago, was, coincidentally, also a blowout – the Astros won by the score of 8-0. But it’s not so much the score that will forever resonate in the minds of Yankees fans. That night in “The House that Ruth Built,” Roy Oswalt, after exiting in the second inning with an injury, and five of his teammates combined to throw a no-hitter against the Yanks.
Nobody likes to see their team get blown out, especially by one of the worst teams in baseball, but it is simply going to happen every now and then. No matter how terrible a team is, they are not going to lose 162 games. As Andy Pettitte and the Yankees were painfully reminded Monday, even bad teams can rack up hits and drive in runs. No need for overreaction, though, as so many on Twitter expressed. As I mentioned in my last article, Major League Baseball plays a long season, during which things tend to even themselves out.
The good news for the Yankees and their fans is that beyond their ace, Bud Norris, whom the Yankees will miss during this series, and their talented No. 2 starter, Harrell, the Astros do not have much of a rotation, to say the least.
The Astros will send right-hander Philip Humber (0-5, 7.99 ERA) to the mound Tuesday night, while the Yanks will try to even the series with Hiroki Kuroda (3-1, 2.79 ERA). On Wednesday, Houston will start the oft-injured veteran Erik Bedard (0-2, 7.98 ERA), while David Phelps (1-1, 5.29 ERA), acting as interim starter, will head to the hill for the Yankees.
(April 28, 2013 – Source: Al Bello/Getty Images North America).